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Los Alamos’ New Virtualized Data Center Saves Energy and Cash

March 7, 2011 - 3:15pm

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It takes 8,900 kilowatt hours to provide electricity to one U.S. house for a year. With the energy saved annually through Infrastructure on Demand, LANL can power 216 homes. | Photo Courtesy of LANL

It takes 8,900 kilowatt hours to provide electricity to one U.S. house for a year. With the energy saved annually through Infrastructure on Demand, LANL can power 216 homes. | Photo Courtesy of LANL

Ever notice how much heat your laptop or desktop computer gives off when you’re using it? Just imagine an entire room, or even a whole building stacked full of computers. They’re called data centers, and though they make the Internet and other networks possible, they can also be some of the biggest energy hogs around. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. One of the most innovative ways to save money on data centers by saving energy was pioneered at the Energy Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report revealing that data centers are responsible for nearly 2% of U.S. electricity consumption, a number that was expected to increase quickly as technological and computing demands continue to rise. All that electricity has a price tag of $4.5 billion, and costs continue to climb.

Enter Anil Karmel, architect of the LANL data center’s virtualization effort, and the brains behind a novel way to improve IT efficiency and better serve the lab’s core R&D -- what Anil calls “Infrastructure on Demand,” a cutting-edge self-service portal through which researchers and lab employees can quickly request and automatically provision virtual servers to support research and other essential tasks. The benefits are striking: new server requests that once took 30 days to fulfill now take 30 minutes.

LANL’s data centers support vital national security operations, power cutting-edge scientific research and serve as a virtual backbone for world-renowned supercomputers. As a federal facility, the lab is also part of a major government-wide effort to reduce our carbon footprint while saving energy and taxpayer dollars. Mr. Karmel has found a way to keep LANL’s data centers running smoothly and safely -- and save cash, to the tune of $1.4 million per year!

In 2006, LANL began to implement a process that packs the computing power of several regular machines into one specially designed server. The new virtualization infrastructure enabled the lab to decommission 105 physical servers and retire three small data centers, with total energy savings estimated at more than 1.8 MWh/yr. That’s a reduction of 50-70% of physical footprint without any loss in computing capacity or security. Sound expensive? Guess again -- Mr. Karmel and his team saw a full return on their investment within nine months from the project’s inception -- more than a year ahead of schedule.

That’s great news for energy savings, but how does it help the world-class LANL scientists who rely on the lab’s data centers to power their work?

In September 2010 LANL introduced Infrastructure on Demand. This private cloud ensures that the benefits achieved in energy efficiency and resource optimization translate to a higher-quality user experience. It includes a self-service web portal that automatically provisions server requests at the click of a button, a tracking tool that acts like a smart meter displaying ongoing savings in kWh, and features that allow for customization of server requests with real time calculation of associated costs. LANL’s remarkable success in saving energy, saving money and enabling great science is just one of many ways in which the Energy Department is finding innovative solutions to some of America’s biggest energy efficiency challenges.

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